"Burning" – exhibition of cut-outs by Monika Krajewska

Why so few material traces of Jewish culture have survived until today? What does that tell us about the history of the Jewish community inhabiting Polish lands? Monika Krajewska poses such questions in her series of cut-outs and collages titled "Burning." In her works, the artist ponders over the fate of Jewish religious objects which got lost, were looted or intentionally destroyed in the course of wars and a series of catastrophes that befell Jews.

The artist points to the fact that this destruction was a particularly painful loss for the community. In Jewish culture, objects related to the cult belong to the realm of sacrum. The most revered are Torah scrolls (the Pentateuch), kept in the aron ha-kodesh, namely a special ornately decorated cabinet which refers to the Temple, the place where G-d is present. Worn-out scrolls are not to be thrown away—they are kept in a special place called genizah and then buried in the ground. Therefore, destruction of holy writs or religious objects is a major desecration, and salvaging them is perceived as a heroic sacrifice.

The series consists of thirty-one works in which the artist refers to the objects related to synagogue cult and transfers them to the traditional Jewish paper-cutting technique, painstakingly recreating the symbolism and ornamentation of Jewish art from East-Central Europe—stylised floral decoration, symbolic representations of animals, a repertoire of traditional sacred Judaic symbols (a menorah, Torah and the Tablets of Law, the Temple) and calligraphic quotations from religious texts and prayers. In order to introduce reflection on loss and destruction, the artist subjects her painstaking work to destruction: she tears apart sections of the works after cutting them out and burns the ends of the sheets. She uses tinted paper as a background for the cut-outs, incorporating the motif of fire, ashes and ruins. In the representations, she incorporates quotations from religious texts or classics of modern Jewish literature, in which there are references to flames and destruction, as well as to the hope of salvation.

"The Burning series has grown to be my requiem for ceremonial objects obliterated together with the communities which had created them, looked after them and hoped to pass them on to next generations," says the artist. "I wanted to pay homage to the old-time masters of cut-outs who tirelessly transformed a white sheet of paper into a Gan Eden full of fantastic creatures. Like builders of wooden synagogues and authors of the woodcarving and painting who undertook their ‘sacred mission to create a beautiful framework for the fulfilment of each religious precept. My work which is inspired by their art was first carefully drawn and cut out, then stained, torn, set on fire..."

Monika Krajewska has been recalled the memory of traditional Jewish art for decades now. By documenting and analysing artistic tradition, she reaches the essence of Judaic spirituality. In the early 1980s, she travelled across Poland taking photographs of abandoned Jewish cemeteries and documenting the symbolism present on tombstones, which resulted in the albums titled "A Time of Stones" (1982) and "A Tribe of Stones" (1993). She has been engaged in the cut-out technique which, next to woodcarving and metalwork, was the favourite artistic technique of Ashkenazi Jews. She also works in Hebrew calligraphy. In her work, she combines a deep knowledge of tradition with a modern interpretation. She draws both on the religious sources as well as on Jewish legends and secular literature.


  • Artist: Monika Krajewska
  • Curator: Tamara Sztyma
  • Organisation: Dominika Dragan-Alcantara
  • Graphic art and key visual: Piotr Matosek
  • Production: Jacek Szczygieł, Witold Słabuszewski
  • Conservation: Marta Stawińska, Erika Krzyczkowska-Roman
  • Registrar: Aneta Jasionek